Skip to page content

Lab work spawns company model

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Research

The meeting of the minds began with bad circulation.

That's what Kevin McCully, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, and his students were studying when he developed a tool to measure the amount of energy given off by leg muscles' mitochondria. Sensors taped to the skin detect energy expended by muscles before and after a workout. This gives researchers an idea of muscle health, an invaluable tool when working with patients who have peripheral artery disease, ALS, spinal cord injuries or even those taking statin medications to lower cholesterol levels.

This tool could be used by doctors and clinics across the country, but there was one problem: The sensors were only designed to be used inside the lab in UGA's Ramsey Center. The next step, McCully said, would be to create a more portable test for external labs and clinics, allowing more people to benefit from the technology. Without that expertise, the team was stuck.

Then, Jonathan Murrow walked into the lab. And the project kicked up a notch.

Murrow, who at the time was new to the faculty at the Georgia Regents University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership, jumped at the chance to collaborate in the College of Education's Exercise Muscle Physiology Laboratory.

"I sought out McCully and it evolved into a collaboration of sorts, from a science fiction and research standpoint, for me," Murrow now says. The technology McCully and his team had developed was groundbreaking, Murrow says, and he quickly realized its potential.

By working together, Murrow helped create a business model and a plan to commercialize the mitochondria test. Murrow also received a grant from the American Heart Association to develop a prototype of the diagnostic tool. And thanks to relationships with several drug companies looking to test for possible side effects, Murrow and McCully had a demand for their product and a small but steady income stream to finance product development.

But translating a research-based product into a consumer-friendly one isn't easy. McCully and Murrow joined forces with two new professors — Kent Nilsson and Nathan Jenkins — and the team launched InfraredRx, a company designed to develop the muscle mitochondria test into a sellable product.

McCully is quick to mention that while he developed and popularized the original technology, Murrow had a vision to turn it into a commercial product. "The more we used this thing, we thought, can we get this out of the lab and into clinical environments?" McCully says. "Let's make it more useful than for a handful of researchers."

The goal of InfraredRx, McCully says, is to develop a commercially viable product that measures circulation and metabolism. While there are similar tools out there, they don't address a heart-related diagnosis like this method.

"So if we can get to the point where our service is in every cardiovascular department, then we're there," McCully says.

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602